Bulpett: Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy likes direction of Celtics and MVP-caliber play of Isaiah Thomas

February 26, 2017 GMT

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Stan Van Gundy was highly amused that Danny Ainge and the Celtics are getting hit hard for making no moves at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

“Really?” said the Pistons coach. “I don’t get that. I think they’re in great position.”

Van Gundy is preparing for tonight’s meeting with a team that is 16 games over .500, has, in his opinion, a strong MVP candidate in Isaiah Thomas and first-round picks coming from the Nets in the next two drafts.

“And their window is far from closing,” Van Gundy said. “It’s one thing if you’re a team that’s really up there in age and you’ve got to do something right now, but they don’t. Plus, I look at it with the injuries Cleveland’s had and everything else, I mean, why can’t they make a run? They’re the No. 2 team in the East right now. Why can’t they make a run?”

Looking at the bounty still to come from Brooklyn, Van Gundy added, “You’re either going to have those picks, or you’re going to get something great for them. My guess is they had a lot of people come at them for those picks, and it didn’t make sense for them. I mean, you’ve got a chance to have that be the No. 1 pick in the draft. You’ve got the most ping-pong balls. I’m not saying you trade it or don’t trade it, but it’s a high value pick. You don’t use that to get somebody who gets you two or three more wins.”

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So far, the group led by Thomas has gotten the Celtics 37 wins, three fewer than Cleveland heading into last night’s play. Van Gundy sees Isaiah’s fingerprints all over the operation.

“I think what goes unnoticed with — well, I guess with all the great scorers, but especially with him on that team, they’ve done a good job constructing their team around him anyways. They’ve got a lot of shooting,” he said. “But if you really go back and watch their games and chart his role in all the shots they get, we can look at the points and assists, but (you see) just the attention he draws and what that does opening up other people. You’re not off in help position as much off of him. You’re not rotating off of him. Guys are getting shots.

“I mean, when you watch film, it’s astounding. He’s probably as responsible for as much offensive production of a team as anybody I’ve seen. I would say the three this year (are) him, (James) Harden and (Russell) Westbrook. But I don’t even know if, like, Westbrook, he’s doing a lot of creating in terms of his own scoring and passing, but he’s not even drawing the same attention off the ball. I mean, Isaiah Thomas is a huge, huge obviously part of their offense, and it’s well beyond his points and assists.”

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As for what’s behind Thomas’ elevation this season, Van Gundy said, “I think opportunity, No. 1. As he’s gone on in the league, he’s gotten more and more opportunity, and Brad (Stevens) has really rolled with him this year even more so than last year. But, again, where it really got going this season is he was good right from the beginning, but when he started knocking down 3’s at a high level, now everything changes.

“It used to be you could at least pick your spots. You wouldn’t go under on him all the time on pick and rolls, but you could some. Shoot, now if he gets any space, he’s knocking down 3’s. And, again, your bigs can’t lay back like you would like them to a lot. They’ve got to be up, so that creates opportunities for those guys rolling to the basket — which sucks everybody in and creates opportunities for shooters. And it’s all coming off him, and that’s changed because of his great ability now to shoot the ball.

“I mean, who shoots the ball at that level and gets to the line at the level he does? It’s just, it’s incredible. And it’s what he’s doing at his size and everything else.”

Van Gundy then said, “I think you could make — and you can for other guys, too — but you could make a very strong case for him as the MVP this year. Now, I don’t know if he’s got the name recognition yet that (Stephen) Curry and (Kevin) Durant and Harden and Westbrook have, but if you just want to look at the teams and how much a guy means to a team, you can a really, really strong case for Isaiah Thomas as the MVP.”

That’s just one reason Van Gundy appreciates that the Celtics were in position to act prudently on Thursday.

“On a lesser level here there were some people upset at us that we didn’t do anything,” he said. “But I think mainly when people say, ‘You should do something,’ they don’t really have an idea of what the possibilities were.

“My guess is that Danny looked at everything, and you don’t make a deal to just make a deal. He didn’t have what he liked. And he’s got a really good team that’s capable of winning the East, so you don’t want to make a bad deal. I told our guys last week, this idea of, hey, we’re two or three games below .500; you have to do something, that doesn’t make sense to me. You do things that make you better because you’re not where you want to be. It doesn’t mean that you just make a deal. Deals can make you worse as much as they can make you better.”